With the success of Chicago, High School Musical, Wicked, Hairspray, and even Glee, it's time to face the facts: Musicals are making a comeback. If you don't know your Sondheim from your Shaiman, don't feeling left out -- This handy guide will have you up to speed in no time!
Shows to Know
With so many musicals out there, how do you know where to start? Here's a list of some shows you should be familiar with.
West Side Story: You'll like it. Characters like Riff, Bernardo, and Action are uber-cool. It may be hard to believe that members of a street gang can dance...
...but it's much harder to believe that Jews can dance in Fiddler on The Roof!
The Music Man: Okay, this features some barbershop music, which makes it kinda lame. But, to make up for it, it features lots of great patter songs. Patter, basically, means instead of singing notes, you just speak rhythmically. In other words, The Music Man was The Birth of Rap Music! And, since the title character is a con artist, I think it also qualifies as Gangsta Rap!
Guys and Dolls: If you get the chance, see a local high school production of this classic musical. Yes, you could always just rent the movie, but we assure you that your neighbors' kids can sing better than Marlon Brando and act better than Frank Sinatra!
Hair: This revolutionary musical had nudity. It had drugs and rock and roll, too, but the real creative innovation was the nudity.
Damn Yankees: You haven't seen this musical and you call yourself a guy? It's got Satan and baseball. What more could you want? A scantily clad sex kitten? Okay, your wish is granted!
Godspell: Jesus Christ! No, seriously, it's about a singing, tap-dancing Jesus Christ. This musical is The Gospel According to Saint Matthew set to catchy 60s rock melodies. Fun Fact: the original cast featured Maria from Sesame Street playing a whore in clown makeup.
Grease: Before it was a movie, it was a stage show that had the decency to sound like the 50s--no freaking disco music! And no stupid "Sandy! I thought you were in Australia!" line, either!
Sweeney Todd: This musical about cannibalism will have you humming and retching at the same time!
Chess, The Musical: Do you ever ask yourself, "What happened to the guys from ABBA?" The answer is Chess, The Musical. Have you been searching for an 80’s pop song about the red-light districts of Thailand that features an inexplicably long flute solo? Please see Chess, The Musical, Act 2, Scene 1, "One Night in Bangkok." Do you pray to the sweet Lord above to create a patch of common ground between the geeks from the high school chess club and the geeks from the high school theater club so that these two warring factions can finally be united and a new era of peace may begin? The Lord has heard your prayers and behold! He gives you Chess, the Musical.
Phantom of the Opera: You don't need to buy an expensive Broadway ticket to see Phantom. Just check out director Joel Schumacher's movie version of this musical tale of a man who lives in an underground cave, coming out only at night in the shadow of darkness. On second thought, considering what happened the last time he directed a movie about a guy in a costume hiding in a cave, maybe you should skip it.
Cats: Okay, I know we're trying to help you get over your fear of musicals, but this show really is your worst nightmare. Here's an analogy-- Cats is to Great Musicals what Garfield is to Great Movies! Avoid this hairball at all costs!
Les Miz: This is a really long musical, but if you have a test tomorrow in your English class on the really long book and you haven't started reading it yet, listening to the cast album is a going to be a faster way to cram. Just remember that the novel and the musical are a little different, so DON'T write an essay about how your favorite part of the book was the singing prostitutes.
The Producers: This hit Broadway musical about a hit Broadway musical was made into a movie based on the musical based on the movie about a musical based on Hitler.
People to Know
Nothing before Stephen Sondheim matters. Sondheim is God. He's the King of Rhyme. It's like the man ate a rhyming dictionary and craps out couplets. Looking for some truly old school tracks? Forget Run DMC and pick up Sunday in the Park With George!
Sondheim changed the very nature of musicals for ever! Even the types of characters depicted in shows change:
Musicals Before Steve -- Socialites, Cowboys, and Ingenues
Musicals After Steve -- Serial Murderers, Assassins, and Sex Slaves
Sondheim took lyrics to a whole new level:
Lyrics Before Steve:
There's a bright golden haze on the meadow
There's a bright golden haze on the meadow
The corn is as high as an elephant's eye
Lyrics After Steve:
There's a hole in the world like a great black pit
And it's filled with people who are filled with shit
And the vermin of the world inhabit it
Bob Fosse: Choreographer, Director, Pervert
Fosse pioneered the use of having people dance around in skimpy underwear. He taught chorus girls how to bump and grind. He would have dancers do things with chairs that made all the seats in the audience jealous. His pioneering work on hot shows like Chicago and Cabaret taught Brittney, Madonna, and every boy band out there how to molest furniture for fun and profit.
The beloved Bernadette Peters is a quadruple threat: She can sing, she can act, she can dance, and she can be a special guest host on Regis and Kelly without losing her dignity!
Gallons of Fake Blood!
Most guys like action movies with lots of senseless killing. If it's a high body count you're looking for, look no further than these musicals:
- In West Side Story, 3 characters get custom fitted with chalk outlines. (It's the classic story of Boy meets Girl, Boy gets shot in the back, Girl starts waving gun around in a menacing fashion.)
- Into the Woods may be based on fairy tales, but that doesn't stop the flow of blood! 7 people won't be making it out of the show alive...
- In Les Miserables, they kill off 4 notable characters (which isn't much considering it's about the Paris Uprising.)
- In Sweeney Todd, a tuneful musical about a serial killer, 9 people bite the dust. (7 throat slittings, one shooting death, and one person burned alive in an oven! Awesome!)
- You've probably never heard of an obscure and funny little show called Something's Afoot, but it still gets the award for "Most Violent Show of All Times!" Why? It kills off the ENTIRE CAST! This is the only musical without a big finale… because there’s nobody left to sing it!